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Why does the GRPD want to use drones?

March 22, 2020

Since last year, the Grand Rapids Police Department has been saying that they wanted to include the use of drones into their department.

MLive ran an article in late December discussing this issue, an article that included the use of a video about drones from another police department. In that same MLive story, it was stated that the GRPD would be hosting public meetings in the Spring of 2020 to talk about the use of drones and to give the public a chance to offer feedback.

In fact, there were meetings scheduled about the GRPD and drones for last week, but they were cancelled because of the COVID 19 outbreak. Here is the text from one of those scheduled meetings: 

The Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) and Grand Rapids Fire Department (GRFD) are inviting the community to learn more about the proposed use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in their public safety efforts.

The presentations will include information about the role of drones in public safety, how they can be used as first responders and how the departments would ensure privacy and individual liberties for community members. Attendees also will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback on the proposed program.

It is not surprising at all that the GRPD would present the use of drones within a “public safety” framework. As someone who has been part of the immigrant justice movement in recent years, the constant police harassment, intimidation and surveillance is always presented as, “we are here to keep you safe.” If drones are not really about public safety, then why are police departments and the GRPD in particular, interested in their use?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has some good information about the capabilities of drones and why police departments are using them.

According to EFF, drones are: 

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that can be equipped with high definition, live-feed video cameras, thermal infrared video cameras, heat sensors, and radar—all of which allow for sophisticated and persistent surveillance. Drones can record video or still images in daylight or infrared. They can also be equipped with other capabilities, such as cell-phone interception technology, as well as backend software tools like license plate readers, face recognition, and GPS trackers. There have been proposals for law enforcement to attach lethal and non-lethal weapons to drones.

EFF also states that between 2009 and 2017, there has been a substantial increase in local police and sheriff departments using drones, with nearly 350 departments incorporating them into use during that 8 year period. “Law enforcement agencies use drones for mass surveillance, crime investigation, search and rescue operations, locating stolen goods, and surveying land and infrastructure.”

Most states, including Michigan, do not require search warrants before using drones for search or surveillance, even if people have not been accused of a crime. Drones can be use as surveillance and to collect data on people, even when they are involved in constitutionally-protected activities.

So what can the residents of Grand Rapids do about the GRPD’s desire to use drones? First, whenever the public meetings are rescheduled, we should turn out in big numbers to say no to mass surveillance. If that doesn’t stop the GRPD in their desire to use drones, then we can work with groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundations, which  encourages people to file public records requests with their own police agencies.

Like all technology, it can be used for good or it can be used as another tool for systems of power and oppression. We cannot allow the GRPD to use drones. Drones will definitely be used as a tool of mass surveillance and as a weapons against social movements that are challenging systems of power and oppression.

Detention Watch Network creates Toolkit to Support Local Demands for Mass Release of People in ICE Custody

March 19, 2020

The Chicago-based grassroots organization Detention Watch Network has created an excellent toolkit for organizers who are doing Abolish ICE work in their community. 

The toolkit is entitled, Toolkit to Support Local Demands for Mass Release of People in ICE Custody.

The Introduction to this Toolkit provides a clear explanation for why the toolkit was created:

In response to the growing public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the United States government’s inadequate response, we have developed this working toolkit to help guide and support the work of organizations and individuals looking to demand the release of people in ICE custody. Organizations and individuals should assess their capacity and determine what strategies and targets fit best with the resources they have available and the number of people involved. This is by no means an exhaustive list of options and existing tools, its an attempt to centralize what has already been created and make it accessible to different local and regional contexts.

The toolkit includes:

  • Strategies for federal, state, regional and local organizing work
  • Templates & Resources for Lawyers
  • Communication Resources
  • Media Coverage and Resources to Support Your Demands
  • Tracking Outbreaks in your Area
  • Calls to Action from Organizations fighting Mass Incarceration
  • Coordinated your Community to Welcome People being Released
  • Existing Petitions/Calls to Action by State
  • National Petitions

The resources and strategies included in this toolkit are very clear, practical, plus they push the sense of urgency that people in detention centers, jails or prisons, whether they are undocumented immigrants or victims of mass incarceration, should be released immediately because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Toolkit also is available in Spanish at this link

Neo-Liberal Capitalist project Grand Action makes a comeback

March 18, 2020

While we are all faced with an uncertain future with Covid – 19, we also have to pay attention to what systems of power are up to. Scholar/activist Naomi Klein calls these moments Disaster Capitalism, where governments use a disaster to push further austerity measures.

GRIID hopes to spend time looking at how local systems of power might also try to take advantage of the current crisis to further their own agendas.

Grand Action 2.0

Despite their announcement a few years ago to shut down, Grand Action recently announced that they are coming back. 

The business press reported on this announcement, with the headline, Grand Action reboots to tackle new transformational projects in GR.  I’m not sure how “transformational” the work of Grand Action can be, unless by transformational they mean it will transform more public money to fund private projects.

The previous version of Grand Action was led by David Frey, John Canepa and and Dick DeVos. DeVos is the only holdover with Grand Action, but he will be joined by Carol Van Andel and Tom Welch. Carol is the wife of David Van Andel, the current CEO of the Van Andel Institute. Tom Welch is the regional president of Fifth Third Bank.

The reporter from MiBiz, which ran a short article on Grand Action’s return, only ran a brief intro and then asked several questions, which we deconstruct below.

DeVos Family Electoral Contributions: Financing far right politics and political sycophants

March 17, 2020

The electoral process is a highly compromised process, with issues around voter fraud, gerrymandering and the power that the Democratic and Republican parties have when it comes to allowing other political parties from forming.

However, possibly the most problematic aspect of the current electoral process is how members of the capitalist class can dictate what happens via campaign contributions. In West Michigan, one need look no further than the DeVos family, to see how wealth can infect the electoral process.

According to data collected by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos family has contributed more money to electoral politics in Michigan over the past several decades than any other family. 

However, the DeVos family is also committed to using their vast wealth to influence electoral outcomes across the US, specifically in federal races. According to the Center for Responsible Politics, which tracks political contributions by state, by city and by zip code, the DeVos family dominates campaign contributions for the current electoral cycle. Based on the latest FEC filings, you can see how much the DeVos family has contributed so far to national elections for the 2020 election cycle. 

With just these 10 contributions by the DeVos family, they have contributed $1,850,000. That is an incredible amount of money, considering this was only in the top 10 listings for 2019.

Some people might be familiar with the organizations listed as recipients of the DeVos money, but these are not necessarily household names, like America First Action, the Senate Leadership Fund, the Congressional Leadership Fund and Better Future Michigan Fund.

The Better Future Michigan Fund is primarily a fund that has gone to support Republic Senatorial candidate John James, or more specifically to attack his opponent Senator Gary Peters. However, the website and the Facebook page also seek to discredit proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

America First Action is a PAC that also endorses a GOP platform and attacks Democratic candidates. Their mission statement is rather instructive:

For eight long years, America was held hostage by an administration where our hopes, dreams and values were sold, piece by piece. Winning became a bad word and apologies, the norm. Our jobs went overseas, our products made by foreign companies. We no longer were a first place America.

The statement is very misleading, since jobs going overseas has happened under both Republican and Democratic administrations, as well as a GOP or Democratic controlled Congress.

The Congressional Leadership Fund and the Senate Leadership Fund are both designed to gain Republican control of the House and the Senate. In addition, the candidates and the platforms that they promote are platforms that favor the Capitalist class, disproportionately hurt black and brown communities, to not support expanding worker protections or workplace democracy, do not support the LGBTQ community, are anti-environmental and do not support policies like Medicaid for All.

Since the DeVos family are major contributors to these organizations, they also support the candidates and the policies they put forth, policies that are far right and promote white supremacist, anti-labor and anti-environmental values. Remember this the next time you look fondly on Start Garden, AmplifyGR, Artprize or any of the other DeVos funded projects. The DeVos family is Michigan’s #1 Robber Baron family that should be vilified.

My Letter to the GR City Commission in support of a Driver’s Licenses for All Resolution

March 17, 2020

Today, the Grand Rapids City Commission will be voting on a “resolution urging the Michigan Legislature to amend state law to allow qualified undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. If you support Driver’s Licenses for All, please send a letter to the Grand Rapids City Clerk (cityclerk@grcity.us) before 5pm today (Tuesday, March 17) and include as your E-mail heading “Committee of the Whole item 3.”

Grand Rapids City Commissioners and Mayor Bliss

For the past three years I have been working with Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE on immigrant justice issues. A great deal of this work has been to resist the very real harm being done to the undocumented/under-documented community, harm in the form of arrest, detention and often deportation.

In addition, most of the ICE arrests have targeted the primary income earners within immigrant families, thus leaving these families faced with an extremely insecure economic future. Add to this reality is the fact that having a family member arrested, detained or deported by ICE, also causes significant trauma, especially for children. The effects of the ICE-induced trauma on immigrant families is something that many of us have seen directly, but one of the things we know about trauma is that it will continue to impact these families for years to come.

Another major aspect of the work of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE, is to center the lived experience of the undocumented/under-documented community. This is exactly why Movimiento Cosecha GR is an immigrant-led movement, which has been hearing for at least the last 2 years that getting driver’s licenses for undocumented/under-documented immigrants has been the number one priority.

We also know that one of the main ways that undocumented/under-documented immigrants end up in ICE custody is because they have been stopped by local law enforcement for something like a faulty tail light. Once members of the undocumented/under-documented community are stopped by local cops, they either ended up in the Kent County Jail or get a citation to appear in court. In both cases, ICE is notified and undocumented/under-documented immigrants are then being detained by ICE.

Therefore, if the City of Grand Rapids is committed to supporting the undocumented/under-documented community and reducing the amount of ICE violence, then it is urgent that the City adopt a resolution in support of Driver’s Licenses for All.

GRIID Interview on the creation and purpose of the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network

March 16, 2020

We posed a few questions to those who have been instrumental in facilitating the creation of the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network

The work of the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network is still evolving, with new ideas and new opportunities being posted daily. We encourage you to like the page, to share the information with your networks and to think about how we can organize ourselves outside of the limiting capitalist framework and promote cooperation and collective liberation.

Most of those who voted to continue Medicaid Work Requirements in Michigan, also received lots of money from members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure

March 13, 2020

In January, we reported on Medicaid Work Requirements that Michigan had adopted in 2018, but were to begin on January 1st of this year. The Medicaid Work Requirements bill was supported by the West Michigan Policy Forum, which is made up of the most powerful individuals and families in West Michigan.

Yesterday )March 12), the Michigan House of Representatives voted on Concurrent Resolution 17, which would, “urge the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services to appeal the federal court ruling invalidating the waiver for Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements, defend the waiver, and uphold its intended purpose of encouraging self-sufficiency.” 

Yesterday’s vote was a response to a judge’s ruling, which invalidated the waiver for the work requirements on March 4.

What is instructive about the vote, but not surprising, is that of the 56 Republican legislators that vote in favor of the resolution, 36 of them have members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure listed as major campaign contributors.

Most of those who received campaign contributions from members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, received money from the DeVos family. However, there were some who voted to continue Medicaid Work Requirements that received campaign funding from other powerful people in West Michigan, such as Peter Cecchia, John Kennedy, the Meijer family and Michael Jandernoa. All of these men are also involved in the West Michigan Policy Forum.

It is important that we acknowledge that these men who have tremendous political, economic and social influence in the Greater Grand Rapids Area, are funding politicians that does harm to working class individuals and families, primarily because it fits within their ideological framework and because it directs money away from working people. 

In addition, it is clear that these politicians do not care about the well being of working people, especially now with the coronavirus crisis. Those that voted in favor of Medicaid Work Requirements is nothing short of cruelty.

Below is a listing of the Republicans in Michigan that voted for the resolution, along with a link to their campaign funding history. Those who have an N after their name, did not receive campaign funds from those who are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

Afendoulis http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=137

Albert http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=104

Alexander http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=129

Allor http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=94

Bellino (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=68

Berman http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=17

Bollin (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=122

Brann http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=133

Calley (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=105

Chatfield http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=88

Cole http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=90

Crawford http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=79

Eisen (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=100

Farrington http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=78

Filler (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=115

Frederick http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=103

Glenn http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=109

Green http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=102

Griffin http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=10

Hall http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=119

Hauck http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=4

Hernandez (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=101

Hoitenga http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=6

Hornberger http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=84

Howell http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=97

Huizenga http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=116

Iden http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=118

Johnson http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=138

Kahle http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=130

LaFave http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=91

Leutheuser (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=120

Lightner http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=13

Lilly http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=106

Lower http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=136

Maddock (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=121

Marino http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=75

Markkanen (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=87

Meerman (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=9

Miller (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=125

Mueller http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=148

O’Malley http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=95

Paquette http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=128

Reilly (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=144

Rendon http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=93

Sheppard (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=131

Slagh http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=108

VanSingel (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=96

VanWoerkom http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=113

Vaupel (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=123

Wakeman (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=112

Webber http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=141

Wendzel (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=98

Wentworth http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=110

Whiteford (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=99

Wozniak (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=81

Yaroch (N) http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking?candidate=86